Let's get to it:
JIM WINIARSKI FROM NOTTINGHAM, NH: I had gotten over Kenny Pickett's small hands controversy until watching Brock Purdy's double pump fake in the 49ers win over Seattle last Thursday night. It made me miss Ben Roethlisberger's incredible pump fake ability. In a sport where every little advantage helps, what traits of Pickett's do you think make him a possible long-term starter?
ANSWER: A lot of what I believe will help make Kenny Pickett a quality NFL starting quarterback are things fans and the media never see. What I'm referencing are his study habits, his time spent poring over video to learn the game at the NFL level, his work ethic, his first-in-last-out of the practice facility work ethic. Win or lose, Pickett is at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on a daily basis, where he has his own little area where he watches video to study opponents as well as his own performances to help him spot flaws and identify areas that need work. Not all qualities that go into the making of a quality NFL quarterback are physical ones.
GIO CALABRO FROM EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NJ: With Kenny Pickett ruled out of the game against the Panthers, Mitch Trubisky was the starter and Mason Rudolph served as the backup. That left me wondering about the emergency quarterback. I recall that role once was filled by Hines Ward and Antwaan Randel-El. Who is the emergency quarterback now?
ANSWER: Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El both played quarterback during their respective college football careers, with Ward at Georgia and Randle El at Indiana. Based on that, it's not really surprisingly that the player tapped to be the emergency quarterback on the current Steelers roster is Zach Gentry, who played quarterback at Eldorado High School in New Mexico and then was recruited by Michigan as a quarterback and began his college career at the position before being moved to tight end.
CURTIS CONNERS FROM CARLISLE, PA: What broadcast network is televising the Dec. 24 game between the Steelers and the Raiders at Acrisure Stadium. We cannot find any listing in the Central Pennsylvania area.
ANSWER: Steelers-Raiders, which is set to kick off at 8:15 p.m. on Christmas Eve, will be broadcast by NFL Network.
HARVEY NIEBRUGGE FROM HUMBOLDT, SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA: I've seen hundreds or thousands of NFL games, but I have never seen a practice. What is a practice like? Is it a scrimmage where it's offense vs. defense? Or do they spend more time working on drills?
ANSWER: NFL practices are different, both in length and style, depending upon the time of the year they're conducted. Training camp practices are the most interesting, because when the Steelers are in full pads, there is hitting and even some live tackling, and I have been told by people who visit a lot of training camps the Steelers are one of the very few teams that incorporates live tackling into most camp practices. Whenever and wherever NFL practices are held, there is a scheduled period or two where the players break up into the various position groups and work on individual skills relative to their position. There are a few special teams periods sprinkled in each day, and if it's a regular season practice it's a very rare occurrence when any of the 11-on-11 work includes hitting. And there is absolutely no live tackling. My advice to you is stick with watching games over practices. You might start out by being excited about watching an NFL practice, but that will wear off quickly. Trust me. The way I would describe it is that you may see some things at a practice, but you rarely actually learn anything.
DAVID ROMFOE FROM MINNEAPOLIS, MN: I would have cut Marcus Allen during the game against Carolina. Would you wait until after the game?
ANSWER: I remember my immediate thought was maybe make him walk back to Pittsburgh, and that's why I'm ill-equipped to be in charge of those decisions. I understand the nature of your question, but it's the NFL and decisions have to be made with the business in mind. I would view the Marcus Allen actions that led to the penalty that provided a fresh set of downs that Carolina used to kick a field goal as an issue to be handled within the locker room. There are enough character individuals within that locker room to get the message across that knucklehead behavior that affects the entire team is unacceptable.
AVRY BEN-DOV FROM SCRANTON, PA: What can be done to tighten up our game play in terms of on-field discipline? Too many dumb penalties. Some could be a lack of fundamentals, which can be practiced, but some are just dumb.
ANSWER: There were a lot of submissions on this issue, and the best I can offer is that the NFL is a billion-dollar business that has collectively bargained rules in terms of what teams can do to punish "dumb penalties" as an example. If it happens again to the same degree, I would expect there to be consequences.
JOHN PUHALA FROM SPRINGFIELD, VA: With four games remaining, if Najee Harris ends with 1,000-plus yards, would it be considered a successful season?
ANSWER: Considered successful by whom? Everybody has an opinion about what will be allowed to be considered successful, and social media allows too many of those to be heard. Right now, Najee Harris has 790 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns, and he has been looking increasingly formidable as this season wears on. If Harris continues on his current path until the end of this season, he'll finish with over 1,100 yards rushing and maybe 8-or-9 touchdowns. That would qualify as a successful season in my book.
PHILIP TURNER FROM WARNER ROBINS, GA: One of the questions from 18 Dec about a player doing both placekicking and punting made me question a memory from the 1970s. I believe Dan Pastorini of the Oilers at one time handled all the kicking chores for them. Is this accurate?
ANSWER: Dan Pastorini played 13 NFL seasons as a quarterback, and he attempted 3,055 passes and threw for 18,515 yards. He also punted 316 times over the same span, including an NFL-leading 82 in 1972. But he only attempted one extra point in his entire NFL career.
BILL SWANSON FROM BETHLEHEM, PA: In the spirit of Christmas and good will toward men, what are some of the things that you believe have gone really well this season for the Steelers?
ANSWER: I don't think you can point to anything about a 6-8 team that has "gone really well this season" as you ask. Even though there have been bumps in the road, I would point to the improvement of the running game and the defense against the run. Neither of those are elite characteristics, but there has been improvement.